The Accumulated Thousands of Impressions

Jayne Anne Phillips, from an interview by Paul Vidich, Narrative (Winter 2009):

Lark & Termite I actually started Lark and Termite before I started MotherKind. Knopf decided they wanted MotherKind first, and I felt that I needed to write it first. I went back to working on Lark and Termite after MotherKind was published, having cleared the way for a very different, though I think related, book.

I work on my books for a very long time, in the sense that I have them in mind. In Shelter, for instance, I wrote the short italicized paragraph in the beginning of the book—which begins, “Concede the heat of noon in summer camps”—in graduate school. I kept it for many years, as a beginning, or prose poem, with the sense that there was a novel inside it. There was, but the passage of time, the layering of what Porter calls “the accumulated thousands of impressions,” seems to be an element for me, an unconscious working-out of material.

I’ve been thinking about the next book I’m going to do for twenty years, and I have research material going back that far, though I had no conscious intention to write a novel imagined around those stories and images. The process of writing is continual. Whether or not I’m working on the book, the book is working on me.